Forget the spiny cacti and the cowboys on their trusty steeds. Think Los Angeles without the Pacific. Sprawling across more than 500 square miles of what once was cactus and creosote bushes, the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, also known as the Valley of the Sun, is home to dozens of resorts, hundreds of golf courses, countless great restaurants, fascinating museums, and a red-hot nightlife scene. However, in the end, it is the sunshine and winter warmth that are the city's biggest attractions.
Things to Do -- Although it's known for its furnacelike summers, actually finding the desert in Phoenix can be a challenge. At the Desert Botanical Garden, marvel at bizarre desert plants from around the world. Hike South Mountain Park or Camelback Mountain to experience Arizona's own Sonoran Desert. For a superb introduction to Native American cultures, visit the Heard Museum, and for a glimpse of the Wild West visit Goldfield Ghost Town, Rawhide, or Cave Creek. March's baseball spring-training camps bring the boys of summer (and their fans) to town.
Active Pursuits -- Ample winter sunshine and more than 200 golf courses mean golfers vacationing in the Valley have plenty of opportunities to improve their handicaps. For wide, forgiving greens, head to such classics as the Wigwam Golf Resort & Spa or the Arizona Biltmore Golf Club. Once you're up to par, tee off at a challenging desert course such as Troon North Golf Club or the Boulders. If you're not a golfer, go take a hike or redefine lounging by the pool as an active pursuit.
Restaurants & Dining -- Beans and black coffee may once have kept cowboys contented, but today, Phoenicians are a bit more discriminating. Savor the flavor combinations of James Beard-award-winning chefs, or troll for dinner at one of the many restaurants along the Scottsdale Waterfront. Wake up your taste buds at Mexican and Southwestern restaurants serving up bold flavors, with or without fire. Cowboy steakhouses offer up both hefty steaks and family fun.
Nightlife & Entertainment -- It wasn't that long ago that a harmonica by the campfire constituted nightlife in these parts, but today, the Valley of the Sun club scene is as hot as, well, Arizona in the summer. Swanky Scottsdale bars and night clubs, such as AZ88, Myst, and Axis/Radius lure the city's hip fashionistas and the occasional Hollywood celebrity. Cowboys, urban and otherwise, can ride off into the sunset and do a bit of boot scootin' at bars such as the Rusty Spur and the Buffalo Chip Saloon.